For those of us who like to whine that there’s not enough time in the day to write (myself included), Anne Lamott has something she’d like to tell you.
Writers, you will either find comfort in this, or you will want to burrow under the covers and avoid the monumental revision process that lies ahead. Go for the comfort. It feels nicer.
Psychology Today brings us this blog post about famous crappy first drafts. Take a look. All writing starts as a formless lump of clay on the page. You’ll have your chance to mold it and tweak it and sculpt it. But first things first, this writer reminds us, you’ve got to get the clay on the page.
…that is, if it were 2007, I still had long hair and my office was in the above food court of an airport in Mexico. (What can I say? I’m scraping the bottom of my iPhoto barrel to illustrate my larger point. Go with it.)
It was that sort of writing day when you stare at the same string of words on your computer screen until you’ve wrung them dry of meaning, when you’re not so sure you’ve got the mental capacity to tell the reader what happens next, when you’ve lost your will to describe. What’s happened? Have I officially used up all my words? Is there nothing more to say? Was this freelance writing thing a big mistake?
And then you realize it’s because you’re on day one of a juice cleanse, you cut coffee cold turkey and you’re running on nothing but fumes and cucumber juice. And then you calm down. You grab a bottle of beet juice, you open a book by one of your favorite writers to fill up the word well and you remind yourself that tomorrow is another writing day.
Dear writers: Please feel free to substitute my cleanse-induced fog for your writer’s block, my beet juice for a strong cup of coffee. But the point is, just when you’re about to beat yourself up for today’s lack of genius on the page, remind yourself that all is not lost. Tomorrow is another writing day.
Why reach for this clunker when you’ve got the efficient use sitting right there for the taking? I put this in the category of words people utilize to give what they’re saying the veneer of authority, padding their prose to give it more weight. Maybe it’s all my years as a newspaper reporter, having to quote government officials who seemed to forever be “utilizing monies.” (Yeah, add monies to the list.) Just save yourself four letters and say what you mean.
2. Just sayin’!
In all likelihood, when you use this phrase you’re actually not just sayin’. You’re attempting to absolve yourself of any responsibility to, and repercussions from, the catty or ill-conceived statement you just made. This does not work. This is just bitchy. And makes you sound like a 12-year-old, CNN. (Thank you, Jon Stewart.)
3. At the end of the day…
As in this, from Jennifer Lopez: “At the end of the day, I just want my work to speak for itself.” Only at the end of the day? Not also at the beginning of it? Do we not care what happens at noon? Are we meh about the rest of the week? Suck it, calendar year? It’s the verbal equivalent of a Twinkie: tempting to reach for, but totally empty. And we’re all so much better off without it.
4. It is what it is.
Which is? This is just lazy, and attempts to get the speaker off the hook to actually reflect for a moment and explain him or herself:
Person A: Did you have an affair with her?
Person B: Yo, it is what it is.
People, you can do better. Use your big girl words. Continue reading
Big ups to my husband for showing me these work schedule commandments by Henry Miller during what’s been a tough stretch of writing. Though, it should be noted he found this not on a writer’s-craft-type website or self-helpy blog. No, he spotted this on The Chive, ye olde photo-tainment site. Let inspiration strike how it may. Number 1 is an excellent reminder, 2 is complicated and don’t get me started on 11. Probably wasn’t a good idea to take up watercoloring and tuba while trying to write a novel. No one said it’d be easy, certainly not Miller, who in 1961 had this to say in the above linked interview in the Paris Review:
What does it matter how long it takes to write a book? If you were to ask that of Simenon, he’d tell you very definitely. I think it takes him from four to seven weeks. He knows that he can count on it. His books have a certain length usually. Then too, he’s one of those rare exceptions, a man who when he says, “Now I’m going to start and write this book,” gives himself to it completely. He barricades himself, he has nothing else to think about or do. Well, my life has never been that way. I’ve got everything else under the sun to do while writing.
At the news bureau where I got my start at the Hartford Courant, they used to clip the day’s stories written by the reporters in our department and post them to a board near the office’s front entrance. Kind of like a proud Mama Courant hanging her children’s messy art projects on the refrigerator for all to see. But each day I had a story that ran, I hustled past the bulletin board averting my eyes. I was so critical of my writing, terrified I had made an error or written a clumsy lede that I couldn’t even bear to look at the clipping, couldn’t acknowledge its existence, let alone read it.
That’s just how I’ve been these last few months I’ve had to put aside the actual writing of the book. Wedding planning, then said wedding, then the holidays put my writing schedule on the back burner. With so much distance, I was afraid to pick up my chapters and read them, afraid to reacquaint myself with the story and its characters and my prose. What if it sucked? And what business did I have writing a novel, anyway?
Last night I finally confronted my fears, went to the NYU library (go Violets!) and sat down to read the first chunk of the manuscript. I had envisioned it would be much like the way I watch horror movies: through slightly parted fingers, squinching my eyes closed every few minutes. I’m happy to report it was a much more pleasant experience than expected. Not exactly the feel good movie of the year. But totally not a slasher flick, either. Bottom line: It doesn’t suck. Lumpy clay on the page that needs some molding, yes. A touch bucolic for my taste, sure. But there’s absolutely a story there, and I’m happy to be getting back to the business of telling it. Here we go…
But there is something nice about taking this time of year to reflect on where you’ve been, show a little gratitude and fine-tune where needed to keep on the right path. I’ve used this long holiday weekend to do just that, and to ask myself some important questions that have helped me recommit to, and refocus, my writing goals. (Totally not the same as resolutions. Says who? Says me.)
Among the questions were these two that I came across in some old journals. At two very different points in my life, two different mentors suggested I ask myself:
- If you could do anything in life, and it was guaranteed that you would not fail, what would it be?
- Imagine yourself five years from now, and you haven’t taken the steps to fulfill your greatest desire. How would that feel? Now how would it feel if you had taken action, and you succeeded?
They’re powerful questions that help shake off the cobwebs and realign your goals. Here’s to a productive 2012!
What better way to learn about the basic elements of a page turner than from a study of comic book writing? Listen as legendary comic writer Stan Lee, creator of enduring Marvel characters like Spider-Man, gives practical advice on how to craft a story that readers can’t put down.
One of my favorite tidbits: “You just have to keep interesting yourself while you’re writing it.”
Looking at my calendar from now until New Year’s, I feel like I might as well hang a sign on my writing desk: Closed: See you in 2012 (Hopefully).
It’s crazy, and crazy-making, how quickly social obligations and holiday preparations can fill up all the blank spaces in the week normally reserved for writing. What’s causing even more writing angst is that more permanent changes are coming to my schedule – changes that will ax entire writing days that have been so valuable to me, and yielded so much productivity. To put it mildly, I’m freaking out.
I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this new schedule and figure out how I’m going to stay committed to my writing in the face of it. Is it a test to see just how dedicated I am to putting words on a page, how much I want it? Is it a blessing in disguise that will make me that more disciplined and sacred about my writing time? Are these pointless questions without real answers that I’m just asking myself to feel better?
Possibly yes, to all. In pondering these questions and drawing up a new writing strategy, I’ve found this blog post by Rachelle Gardner, on the subject of crafting a holiday writing plan, helpful. Good tips on setting realistic goals and carving out writing time. As for me, for now I’m approaching the holiday season much as the dieting gurus advise approaching your waistline this time of year: I’m not looking to drop 20 chapters of writing in the next few weeks, just aiming for maintenance and looking to get through the holidays without abandoning my goals.